Maurice Duverger defines political party as a group of persons organized to acquire and exercise political power. Political party as a concept emerged in 18th and 19th century in Europe and USA. The emerging of the political parties as a concept created a conductive environment for competitive and democratic political process to develop and spread to different parts of the world. The naming of political parties in the early periods in USA and Europe was entirely different from the current political party naming in Ethiopia.
The early political party naming and inspirations in USA and Europe has played their role for the development of democracy and political party systems. Most political party naming in advanced countries were and still are founded on ideological arguments. Examples of the old political party names that pioneered democratic thinking in the early periods includes the Democratic Party in USA, Conservative and Labor parties UK and many others in European countries, which have played their role for the development of stable and modern political party systems in the world. However, the ideology based political party system had triggered global rivalry between West and East and exploded significant collateral damages in developing countries and shaped the current global political landscapes.
In any case, in modern political party system, political parties being created to achieve their particular political goals or vision in a democratic process of election are founded in their own particular inspirations that they wish electorates will buy. But before the spread of the concept of democracy and election, people get organized to achieve their political goals through violent means as democracy was so elusive at the early periods. Democracy as a concept evolved so slowly but the connection between democracy and political party system has got strong prominence in the early 20th in major parts of the world. As the naming of political party system inspired by ideological foundation in developed countries started expanding to developing countries, most developing countries started imitating their party naming and inspirations from the western worlds. Most common political party names inspired by the ideological foundation and influenced party naming in different parts of the world were liberal, conservative, socialist, democratic, communism, populism, nationalism, etc. As there were ideological based political parties, there were also non-ideological political parties in late 20th.
When it comes to Ethiopia, we see a mixed political party naming in the political party formation processes. In the early times of 1960s political party formation in Ethiopia, their naming and inspiration were reflective of the global political contexts of the time. Even though the ideological struggle between capitalist/liberal and socialist camp had dominantly influenced the naming of political parties at the time, the breakup of civil wars after the coming of derge regime to power in 1974 has changed the inspiration and naming of political parties in the country. The civil war that raged the country for more than 20 years has taken way the hope of democratic thinking of the generations and narrowed their political thoughts to a village level. Most political parties including TPLF and its coalitions that won the civil war and came to power in 1991 called its name as liberation front. The coalition political party name including TPLF that governed the country for more than 27 years called its names as revolutionary democratic front or called Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). All other parties that were created at the times of EPRDF had a mix of inspirations and naming but most of them were non-ideological and militant in nature.
The problem with the political party naming in Ethiopia is not their diversity or ideological foundation but the inspiration on which party naming was built. It is very important to underline that party naming comes from the inspiration and the inspiration springs out of the party name. Party naming and party inspirations are two sides of the same coin. The thoughts, expressions and inspirations reflected in the party creation process are everything that determines the life of the party and also has huge bearing on the fate of the country. The Ethiopian political party experiences as we learned over the last 50 years tell us exactly how political party inspirations affected the nation and its people. The words, thoughts and inspirations politicians use to build their political party will take them to the heaven or to the hell. As the Great Book in John 1:1 (ASV) says: “In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”, everything begins with words and thoughts that determine the destiny of the initiator. At the beginning any political party grapples with what party name to use. The party name comes out of the inspiration that the party wants to see. The inspiration of the party drives everything. Inspiration of a party is the god of a party that determines the destiny of the party and its followers.
The inspiration of EPRDF that governed the country for more than 27 years was built on revolution(R). The word revolutionary is a destructive concept and yet inspired to be used as a means to achieve democracy. The term revolution sounds as crashing everything down on its path as enemy and aiming to turn things around 180 degree to achieve its goal. Democracy on the other hand is a step-by-step and time taking constructive process that cannot be achieved through destructive and revolutionary approach. Democracy requires inclusive and accommodative approach to realize the dreams of citizens. Revolution is a militant behavior in its spirit which can’t bring democracy as EPRDF wished. The god of EPRDF was not a good god and that is why it could not sustain itself as a party and nor able to create stable modern political and democratic system in the country in its 27 years of tenure.
If we take the new party that substituted EPRDF, i.e. the Prosperity party, it is non-ideological party built on a vision of its own. As far as my understanding goes, prosperity party is inspired by the principle of ‘medemer’ or bringing in the energy of every citizen together to achieve a vision of prosperity for all. The last three years of the transition period, managed by the PP party, was the most treacherous period in Ethiopia history and yet the hope of the people are still intact as the majority of the people knows the current Ethiopian political problems are deep buried inside a contradictory political inspirations built over long periods of time. As it stands now, there is no question in the name of prosperity party and in its inspiration but actions will prove over time as the party proved itself over the last 2 years of transition period.
If we look at other political parties created along with TPLF that were active during EPRDF and still operating in the country, they have names of their own but most of them were built on flawed inspirations. The most important political party names that boggled most of us for years are those who are inspired with thoughts of liberation. Libration is a common name being used by rebels in different part of the world with a common goal of liberating a given society from other part of the society particularly in times of colonial eras. When this rebel inspired term are used in Ethiopia by many ethnic based political parties till today, it is important to question the relevance of this inspiration in today’s Ethiopia.
Liberation is an inspiration that aims to achieve its political goals through military means. When a liberation party adds front to its name as liberation front, then it sounds that the party is determined to confront with any one on its path militarily to achieve its political goals. The worst inspiration is when liberation front is attached to ethnicity. Political party inspiration built on liberation and attached to an ethnic group mostly breeds civil war. In other words, a political party in the cloth of ethnicity and built on the inspiration of liberation is equivalent to a man in the suit of suicidal jacket. Ethnic based political inspiration is so sensitive and it will intentionally or unintentionally blows up in the face of the party itself and creates generational discontents between different ethnicities.
In today’s world, a party who wants to achieve its political goals through military means is equivalent to a suicidal mission. A political party inspired by a military approach is socially an acceptable, politically unsustainable, economically unviable, culturally and religiously condemned. If we look at the TPLF, which is a pioneer by institutionalizing ethnic based political system in Ethiopia, refused to change its name as the ethnic based inspirations ingrained in their thoughts were so strong and created a sense of wrong confidence as if they can do everything as they wish. Any political party inspirations built on ethnicity will end up with the same result as ethnic based political thoughts are inherently discriminatory, politically undemocratic and unsustainable in a diversified society like Ethiopia.
If we take one of the recently created new political party names called Ethiopian Citizens Social Justice party (EZEMA), the reading of the party name and its inspiration sounds they they are built on positively constructive tones indicating that it will potentially sustain itself and hoped to contribute for the development of democratization in Ethiopia. From the party name we can read its inspiration as ensuring social justice and the rights of citizens. As the name and inspirations indicate, the party is non-ideological and has its self defined vision for the nation. In any political party creation process, the naming, inspirations and thoughts behind a party has strong bearing in nation building. Political party naming and its inspiration is the beginning of the end in the process of multiparty democracy development process.
Ethnic based political party system is a traditional political approach, and can’t work in today’s Ethiopia. After all, ethnic politics is inherently non-democratic and can’t go far to help the country to achieve its long-term political and economical visions. Ethnic based political inspiration particularly when it is attached to militant approach is no more relevant in the modern world of today. The Ethnic based political parties need to learn the fact that injustice somewhere is injustice everywhere and they need to build their inspirations on high moral values, and assume themselves as potential future government for all. The survival and continuity of a political party and its legacy depends on its moral value, inspiration and inclusiveness.
To build a sustainable economy and stable political system, Ethiopia needs to engage in a consciously planned multiparty system development process. Having strong, stable and potentially competitive political parties in the country contributes to build a stable political environment and competitive economy in the competitive world of today. Creating a strong, inclusive and non-ethnic based political party development process will take time but it needs to begin at least by establishing a legal frameworks and standards for political parties to exercise their inspiration and aspiration for the country. As a nation we learned the painful experiences of political culture in Ethiopia over the last 50 years, and we need to establish a viable legal frameworks, policies and standards for the type of political parties, their visions, and inspirations including the naming that we want to see in the future. Ethnic based political party system is so sensitive, so destructive and breeds civil war and mistrust in the social fabrics and it need to be considered as unviable option for the future of Ethiopia. As it is the case in other African countries, the legal frameworks for political parties needs to be anchored to constitutional provisions. Organizing few country level political parties around major national visions and inspirations is very important not only for the survival and continuity of the political parties but also for unshakable, strong political and economic progresses in the country. Ethiopia is a multiethnic society which requires political parties that recognizes the reality on the ground and builds its vision and inspirations that fulfills the demands of all citizens. Time and time again Ethiopian political system was exposed to foreign influences because of the internal weakness and unwillingness of parties to accommodate one another. The time is now for Ethiopia to learn from past mistakes and build the unshakable future that inspires every one of us no matter who we are, where we live, what ethnicity, language and religion we belong.
Belayneh Begajo is an economist by profession and private consultant and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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